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Friday, January 29, 2010

Haircuts: Now with ZEN!!

Being Friday I decided to post something a little light-hearted. Every week or so I scan through the news stories via Google News on Buddhism and Zen. Well, the other day I came across an advertisement for a beauty salon in Dubai called, "Zen Beauty Lounge."

I had to giggle a bit because the idea of primping and dying hair isn't exactly the image I think of when I think, "Zen." When I think, "Zen" and "hair" I think of bald monks!! I doubt all the ladies going to this salon in Dubai would want to truly experience a "Zen haircut!!"

~Peace to all beings~


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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buddhist Converts in India.

For the last 5-10 years I have watched in marvel at the mass conversions in India from Hinduism to Buddhism. It was explained to me that many of the converts are Dalits, (the "untouchables") or members of the lowest caste. I can see why someone who is treated as less-than simply for being born into a certain caste would seek the freedom from caste through Buddhism. Buddhism tells us that we are all equal and interconnected, thus, how can we treat any other being as less than us when they are apart of us? That would be like treating ourselves in the same manner and who wants to see themselves as inferior to others? Another conversion recently took place, which saw 11,000 Hindus and Christians convert to Buddhism:

Express News Service, Jan 25, 2010

Ahmedabad, India -- Cose to 11,000 people, including those from the Koli and Kshatriya communities as well as Christian families, embraced Buddhism at a function in Saijpur Bogha here on Sunday. Buddhist monks from Bhante Pragnyasheel administered the pledges to the new converts. The Ahmedabad district collector, however, said no conversion could be effective unless an official permission was granted.

James: I have read from other conversions that the Hindu dominated government often refuses to acknowledge these conversions away from Hinduism. One Dalit spoke of the demeaning caste system and said, "I have hidden my roots. But often on trains people ask about my background, what my father did, where I am from. When I tell them my caste they stop asking questions. In fact they stop talking to me. Buddhism means I can simply say I am not a Hindu. I do not have a caste." It is a sad irony that the country, which gave birth to Buddhism so often now resists the practice of it today by some of its citizens. However, the trend toward an Indian neo-Buddhism doesn't seem to be slowing down. Seeing how both religions believe in karma, you'd think that the Hindus who behave this way would think twice before speaking ill of those converting to Buddhism and treating them as inferior.

Let me be clear, however, that I am not condemning the religion of Hinduism. I find it to be a very vibrant, peaceful, enlightening and beneficial religion. I incorporate some Hindu mystical teachings into my Buddhist practice. However, I can not condone the caste system that is still adhered to by many despite it being technically illegal. Nor can I condone the government not recognizing people having the right to convert to Buddhism. In one region of India, Gujarat, the BJP government there amended a law to state that Buddhism and Jainism are simply extensions of Hinduism. Yes, there are many similarities, but also important differences and I find it unsettling that such a huge democracy as India would take such a rigid stance on religious freedom. As well as that so many Hindus resisting such conversions when Hinduism is said to be a religion of religious tolerance and openness.

I have done a fair bit of research into this subject and it seems that in many cases the resistance to Dalits and others converting to Buddhism is because of political views rather than true religious objections. It is my hope that the majority of the Hindus in India are much more tolerant and secular than those who object to Buddhist conversions. Especially when there are so many different expressions within Hinduism. Why tolerate all those variations but not a fellow, Indian born religion of Buddhism? You'd think it would be a more tolerated religion because of its Indian roots, if nothing else.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hidden Buddhas: A Book Review.

Sacred Buddha statues imbued with ancient powers are disappearing. From the minute you open this book your are pulled into a page turning mystery with nothing less than the fate of humanity, Buddhism and the world at stake. What unfolds is a novel that crosses the path of many people who seemingly have nothing in common, or do they?

The energy of the book hurls you forward and deeper into a world balanced between spirituality and total chaos but page by page that balance teeters toward the unimaginable. The author does a wonderful job conveying Japanese culture, especially as seen through the eyes of the Shingon Buddhism. It's heavy on the esoteric, which might be a bit cumbersome for some Zennists but irregardless of sect orientation, it is still a good read.

I'd give it an 7.5 out of 10. If anyone wants the book, I'd be happy to send it out to you. I'll send it to the first person who asks in the comment section. Unfortunately though I can only ship inside the U.S., Canada or Mexico.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mindful Gardening in Prison.

Nelson Mandela may have started it all when he was in prison—"A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control," he wrote in his autobiography. "Being a custodian of this patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom." But the idea probably rose to national fame only earlier this past decade, when the Garden Project of San Francisco started selling fresh produce to Alice Waters's acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant.

Catherine Sneed, the woman who in 1992 founded that project, which is a post-release program for ex-prisoners, did so because she had already seen such
success with the Horticulture Program at the San Francisco County Jail, where she would go out on a daily basis with prisoners to work on the farm within the boundaries of the jail. The vegetables they grew were donated to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Her moment of realization of a need for a post-release program came when one student of hers asked the visiting sheriff for permission to stay and work on the farm; Sneed recalled, "he had nothing on the outside."

James: One of the failures of our justice system is that we don't rehabilitate prisoners very well. This can be seen in how often prisoners come out of prison a better criminal than going in. These prison gardens, which offer a chance for inmates to practice mindfulness via caring for vegetables is wonderful rehabilitation. It teaches them patience and focuses the brain to make it harder for the mind to chase dangerous thoughts down the rabbit hole. It gives them the tools to release less skillful energy and transform it into something wonderful such as vibrant, life-sustaining food.

It gives them hope that their lives can still have some meaning despite having committed horrible crimes, and thus, unfortunately treated as no longer having a benefit to society. I think it's wonderful that the food they grow is used in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It is a way for these prisoners to do some good instead of causing harm. It is a way for them to feel like they can pay some of their debt to society, and reduce less skillful karma. I know that it's very difficult for victims' families to think anything positive should happen in the lives of these prisoners. However, if anything good can come from such horrible events then I would hope that they could take some comfort in such programs. Especially one that helps feed the homeless. If it weren't for these gardens that these inmates grow, who knows what crimes some homeless might commit to feed themselves. What a wonderful thing to think of inmates helping people potentially stay out of prison.

Sadly the U.S. prison system is structured in a way as to build up tensions between inmates and offer few programs to help them release that emotion in a more positive way. It is my hope that these prison gardens will become a trend and that mindfulness will help relieve some of the problems in our prison system. I know it can if given a chance.

---End of Transmission---

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti: A Chance to Practice International Metta.

Some people in America are complaining that the American government has given $100 million for relief efforts in Haiti. They argue that we should be spending that money here because we have our own problems. They think that people should donate on their own instead of using our tax dollars. I say that's cruel, selfish and irresponsible for a country with as much wealth as we have. I think we should do both -- donate and offer up tax dollars.

I know that we are having a deep recession but even still we have much, much more than Haiti has even before the earthquake. It's just the right thing to do to help the Haitians. It's the human thing to do. In my town's newspaper, we have a public comment forum on various issues. I thought the following comment (in today's paper) answered some peoples' selfish motives about the $100 million dollars quite well:

The $100 million that the U.S. government is spending on Haiti works out to about 30 cents for every person in the United States. The money is spent in the United States to buy food, water, building supplies and equipment, which is then spent to Haiti. So, the $100 million goes into the U.S. economy first before anything goes to Haiti. So, be generous. Give to Haiti.

James: So, it's a win, win. It helps Haiti to donate, our economy to donate and our sense of humanity to donate.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Texas Continues to Execute the Developmentally Disabled Despite Supreme Court Ruling.

It is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded prisoners in the United States. The state of Texas, however, appears to have found a loophole, according to a published report. In the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling on Atkins v. Virginia, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "Because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses ... [the mentally retarded] do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct." Because of this, the justices found it "cruel and unusual" to put the metally deficient to death, leaving it to the states to establish a framework by which such individuals could be identified in capital cases. Psychologist George Denkowski, an expert witness oft-used by Texas prosecutors, has been utilizing "junk science" to elevate the intelligence evaluation scores of mentally deficient death row prisoners, according to a new report in The Texas Observer.

However, Texas Governor Rick Perry rejected a bill that would have established rules to determine who is mentally retarded. Left grasping, courts invented their own criteria, turning to psychologists for the complicated evaluations. Having played a key part in two-thirds of the state's Atkins appeals, Dr. George Denkowski has built a lucrative practice off ensuring the mentally retarded are executed, his critics say. Denkowski's reputation for declaring prisoners fit to die has earned him "almost Dr. Death status," attorney Robert Morrow told reporter ReneƩ Feltz.

Since complaints were lodged against Denkowski, the Texas Board of Examiners of Psychologists has found that at least three of his cases were littered with scoring errors. Now Denkowski is facing a review by the state licensing board on Feb. 16, when his career as a psychologist could end. Already, three of the Atkins appeals he testified on have been placed on hold pending the outcome of the hearing. Denkowski evaluated 29 men in total; some have already been executed.

James: No surprise it's in Texas. They should change their name from "The Lone Star State" to "The Death State." There is absolutely no reason why we should be executing mentally retarded people. In my view that is no different than executing a young child who accidentally killed their parents. The mentally retarded don't know what they did was wrong, so put them on medications and monitor them in a mental institution. The world isn't black and white but has many shades of gray and mentally retarded criminals fit into one of those shades of gray. So, being able to keep society safe doesn't necessarily mean we have to resort to killing these mentally retarded prisoners. We have in America, a "death cult" and it seems to be centered in Texas. We are a war-like people who also kill people (via the death penalty) to show other people that killing is wrong. Now, does that sound like a logical thing to do? I'm starting to wonder who the real mentally retarded ones are, the prisoners or the citizens?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help Haiti After Devastating Earthquake.

UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that The Red Cross might not be trusted by some in communities of color. A website run by Haitian born rapper, Wyclef Jean is a great place to donate as he has strong and long-time links to the Haitian people. I tried donating to his website instead of Red Cross but it was down at the time. Here is his website: Click here. There are some Buddhist organizations too that are mentioned in the comment section. Feel free to add information as you know it. Or any other organizations that you know are reputable. Thanks. Let's do what we can for these brothers and sisters of ours.

As many of you know, Haiti (which is the 4th poorest country in the world) suffered a major, deadly earthquake yesterday (Tuesday). It was a 7.0 eartquake on a scale of 10 being the worst. It is the worst earthquake in Haiti in more than 200 years. Thousands upon thousands have already died. They need our help fellow Buddhists. We are known for our compassion and so now is the time to practice that first-hand. I would like to be there to work on the ground but they said it is chaos on the ground and that the on-ground help should be left up to the established organizations who have experience doing this kind of thing.

So, the best thing we can do who live outside Haiti is to donate to a reputable organization such as The Red Cross. If you donate to Red Cross, select the button on this page that is for, "International Relief Fund" which will go directly to Haiti. Another good place to donate is UNICEF, which is a United Nationals organization. Haiti has been especially hit hard because they don't have the money to build buildings that can withstand earthquakes. So, buildings like police stations and hospitals have been hard-hit if not flattened. Even the National Palace collapsed, which is the where the president lives!! That's like the White House, here in America being flattened!!According to the latest, a prison was leveled and prisoners have escaped. Schools have collapsed and people are out in the streets.

Also, given the poor living conditions there is a real risk of disease killing even more Haitians in the aftermath of this horrible disaster. Please, if you do metta practice send it toward these wonderful people who are facing unimaginable tragedy. May relief (both material and spiritual) come quickly to the good people of Haiti. I'm going to light a candle to burn all day in solidarity with the Haitians and hope that international aid arrives as quickly as possible. These are the moments where our development of compassion is put to the test. Please, give what you can. I could only afford $10 but every little bit helps. If we are sincere Buddhists, we can't let this people suffer alone. We, those how have been give much must help -- it is our karma to do so for to those who have been given much, much is required.

P.S. - Does anyone know of a Buddhist organization that helps people during international disasters such as many Christian churches do?

~Peace to the Haitians~

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Meditation is an Off-Road Adventure.

"Meditation isn’t about following directions down a mental highway: it’s an off-road adventure." -Barry Evans

(Thanks to my friend Phil over at Tricycle Magazine for the quote).

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO CREDIT: This is a beautiful picture by Udderly Jodi on Flickr. Check out all her pictures -- they're wonderful. I love trails through the woods and watching monks tread this path reminds me of following the middle-path of Buddhism through out the wilderness of life.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Brit Hume Doesn't Think He Denigrated Buddhism.

James: So Brit claims he didn't denigrate Buddhism in his original comment when he said that the Buddhist faith doesn't offer forgiveness or redemption. He has basically cast Buddhism as a cold, unforgiving religion that offers no hope for all of us imperfect beings. I try not to attach too much to my Buddhist beliefs but that was indeed an uneducated comment at best and at worst down right bigotry. You and Bill then claim that you weren't proselytizing but you were attempting to influence Woods to turn to Christianity -- That is proselytizing. Christians can proselytize all they want but for a high-profile journalist to do it on national t.v. is rather unseemly. In addition, to dismiss half a billion Buddhists at the same time wasn't exactly, "Christ-like" which isn't a very good way to convince Buddhists to convert to Christianity.

Brit then uses the classic fall-back defense of many Christians, which is playing the martyrs role after he received a lot of negative feedback from viewers. He does this by claiming that the critical comments were attacks on his Christian faith!! So, he denigrates Buddhism and when he takes heat for those comments he turns it around and tries playing the victim!! Classic. He says that we're all just concerned because he dared mention Christianity. Oh how arrogant!! We had an explosive reaction because you dismissed our belief system, which happens to be one of the great religions of the world!! Isn't doesn't have anything to do with attacking Christianity itself!! At least not from me and other Buddhists I know.

And this title, "believer" that some Christians call themselves seems rather pompous because anyone who believes in a religion is a believer. They seem to use it to purposefully divide themselves from others. And it's often said with an undertone of superiority. It just doesn't seem like something that Jesus would say -- and I was a Christian for 22 years!! Even then I didn't like the label, "believer."

UPDATE: I've added the "Share This" widget to the bottom of each post to better enable sharing Buddhist Blog posts with others. All the forms of sharing that you could ever want are there (Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc). So just click on the "Share This Post" link at the end of each post to access this option.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Question for Brit Hume.

We all know by now that Brit Hume slammed Buddhism this past weekend by saying Tiger Woods needs to turn to Christianity if he wants to be forgiven and redeemed. The irony being that by bringing up Buddhism on such a public level he has sparked curiosity in the religion. That said, Buddhists really don't care how many Buddhists there are in comparison to other religions. We're not interested in competing with other belief systems. We don't do the proselytizing thing. It's a bit too forceful for us easy going Buddhists. For a more in-depth analysis of this statement click here to read my original post but for the purposes of this post I want to ask Brit a question.

You say Christianity is the way to go and that Buddhism is lacking. However, you didn't specify, which church is the right one? What if Woods chooses the wrong one and every day he just keeps making "God" angrier and angrier? You didn't stop to think about that one did you? Stick to the news, Brit or enroll in a theology course and get educated. Better yet, go interview an actual Buddhist -- You're a journalist, so, go find out the facts of Buddhism before you denigrate the religion of 330 million people. Thank-you.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Brit Hume, Buddhism, Christianity and Tiger Woods.

James: Imagine if he was speaking about Christianity instead of Buddhism??? There would be marches in the streets and rallies denouncing Hume and FOX News for not firing him. I'm not saying that such angry demonstrations should take place by Buddhists in response to these ludicrous statements. Quite the contrary. I think the ironic and appropriate thing to do in response is to forgive yet educate him and America as to what Buddhism is about because it is clear that Brit Hume knew nothing of the religion he denounced. And my guess is that the majority of the audience of FOX News doesn't either.

That said, is it anyone's business but Tiger's wife as to whether he is forgiven or not? Just because Tiger was unable to stay faithful to his wife doesn't mean Buddhism is incapable of helping him deal with such suffering. Besides, Christians haven't exactly had the best track record in keeping celebrities and politicians on the "straight and narrow" path. Hume also made the insinuation that you can't make a recovery in life via Buddhism, which is patently absurd. Try telling that to all the recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who have found new life in Buddhism. Try telling that to those who were able to pick up the shards of a broken life via the Dharma. I feel less anger toward Hume than compassion for the suffering he must be under in feeling like he has to personally "save" and convert everyone to Christianity must be exhausting. For more detail on the "nuts and bolts" of forgiveness in Buddhism -- Click here.

As for redemption, as a Buddhist, I believe redemption is gained through your actions more than saying certain words to ask forgiveness from a deity. It is showing that you have changed by behaving in a different way. There is no magic formula or incantations that need to be said in Buddhism -- just behave differently!! Perhaps the reason why Buddhism can't fit neatly into the Christian paradigm for Brit is that it doesn't believe in "sin" to be forgiven or redeemed from. True, there are guidelines on what will cause you less suffering but there isn't anyone to answer to except ourselves as via karma. We are our own savior and judge. Depending on our karma, the next birth will be one that will give us chances to make up for the suffering we have caused and to build upon the good we have sown. Sounds redeeming to me. In Christianity, however, you only have one shot -- this life to "get it right." Perhaps Hume needs to examine his own religion first before condemning another.

In Buddhism there's no big showdown and no guilt sundae topped with another helping of guilt. In Buddhism, guilt is seen as counterproductive because if you've changed for the better then guilt isn't helping you but holding you back. Guilt is about feeling you're a bad person but Buddhism doesn't want you to feel you're a bad person. You might have made some bad decisions but you're not a bad person. Forgiveness also means forgiving yourself for being human. If you feel guilty even after being granted forgiveness by someone then you're only making your suffering worse -- not better. And you haven't fully forgiven yourself. If you're no longer the same person as in the past then what is there to feel guilty over?

~Peace to all beings (even Brit Hume)~

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